COSTA MESA, Calif. -- With its top-2 goal scorers ailing on the road against a tough minded opponent, the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific had its work cut out for it. In the end, the Cougars were upset by Vanguard, 1-0, in suffering their first conference loss of the season.
Mark Babel’s goal in the 65th minute was the difference as the Cougars had their 4-game winning streak snapped. Azusa Pacific had its chances to get onto the scoreboard but was turned away repeatedly by Lion keeper William Johnson who had 8 saves.
The Cougars were shutout for the first time since their last visit to Vanguard, a 1-0 loss on Oct. 18, 2003.
Azusa Pacific was without leading goal scorer Andriy Budnyy for the game and Ian Leibbrandt was limited in his time on the pitch. The pair of combined to score 25 of Azusa Pacific’s 44 goals this season.
The Cougars played a spirited first half and had several quality chances that were turned aside by Johnson. However, they could not score and were tied, 0-0, at halftime. Unfortunately for Azusa Pacific that is when the tide began to slowly turn.
“We played pretty well in the first half,” said head coach Phil Wolf. “But we didn’t come to play in the second half. We were not intense and slowly Vanguard took the game away from us.”
A half clearance turned into a goal for the Lions in the second half when Josh McCall came up with the ball and fed Babel with pass he hammered home for his first goal of the season.
Azusa Pacific tried to find the equalizer but was unable to. With 10 seconds remaining, Donny Dequine had a last chance but couldn’t find the back of the net.
“We were scrambling near the end,” Wolf said. “We had our chances tonight but we didn’t play with a lot of energy.”
Despite the loss, the Cougars (9-2, 3-1) remain in a 4-way tie for first place in the conference. Azusa Pacific will return to action on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the Azusa Square, when it takes on Hope International at 3 p.m.